The dashing prince
There are cricketers, personalities, and then there is Tiger. One uses the present tense as Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi aka Nawab of Pataudi junior aka Tiger will always remain in the minds and hearts of those privileged to have met him.
As a cricket-crazy youngster living in Bombay, the cradle of Indian cricket, one has been fortunate to see many legends of Indian cricket of the 1960s in their trademark flannels sharing elbow space with local players in cramped maidan tents and gymkhanas. Local heroes like Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Bapu Nadkarni, and likes of Hanumant Singh, Budhi Kunderan, Salim Durrani and Tiger Pataudi made Bombay their home.
If cricketers of the 90s and 2000s — the age of bio-mechanics — are known, in management parlance, to produce efficient and result-oriented cricket, the 60s and 70s certainly belonged to the dashers. And, Tiger was the leader of the pack. The Indian batting biryani consisted of the Bombay school of batting that provided the meat which was ladled with dollops of spice provided by dashers like Tiger, Durrani, M.L. Jaisimha and original little master G.R. Viswanath.
A few years ago, while chatting with me in Bengaluru, Vishy recalled how Tiger came to him on the first day of the Test match against Australia at the Brabourne Stadium in 1969 and decided to use his (Vishy’s) bat; he scored 95 runs which, in Vishy’s view, was one of the finest innings he has seen.
Tiger could not “borrow” the same bat in the next Test at Kanpur as the little maestro was making his debut, and, a big notch in the annals of India’s cricket history. One was stumped to learn that the English-bred dasher and India skipper played with borrowed bats, that too while playing Test cricket.
When Tiger decided to move from playing first-class cricket for Delhi to Hyderabad he had no qualms about playing under the leadership of his close mate, and fellow dasher, Jaisimha. One can well imagine the drool factor experienced by members of the fair sex watching these two in action. With Durrani, the trio was lethal, both cricket- and charm-wise. That’s what Indian cricket of the 60s was all about.
When Tiger was crowned the captain of the Indian team at 21, in 1961-62 after Nari Contractor suffered a near-fatal injury in the Caribbean, the most important thing he did was instil in Indian cricketers his belief that fielding was as important as batting and bowling. To drive this point further, he led by example.
Jaisimha once recalled how Tiger scared the living daylights out of a batsman, while playing a local game in Hyderabad, with a flat, fast and furious return throw from the deep recesses of the boundary, which missed the batsman’s face by a whisker. The unfortunate gent had made the mistake of chiding Tiger while taking a run. Tiger just looked at the batsman as if to tell him “never try that again.”
It was the 60s that saw the birth of sharper Indian fielding with Wadekar, S. Venkataraghavan, Rusi Surti, Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar all under the tutelage of Tiger who patrolled the cover area like, a Tiger!
Not just fielding, Tiger inspired a generation of cricketers to look at the opposition in the eye. As equals former Bombay skipper Milind Rege recounts how he and his mate Sunil Gavaskar (both making their first-class debuts) were excited to play under Tiger for the Vazir Sultan Colts in the Moin-Ud-Dowlah Gold Cup tournament in the mid 60s. Other players in the Colts XI were the Amarnath brothers, Mohinder and Surinder, Kailash Gattani and Ashok Gandotra.
Tiger also had an eye for spotting talent. One remembers him telling the manager of a company-backed cricket team while playing the Times Shield to pick “that tall opening batsman who plays for Bombay University. He is the future of Indian cricket”. Tiger was referring to Dilip Vengsarkar!
Stories about the way Tiger created and utilised the great Indian spin quartet are legendary. His tactics to turn a lost cause around were on display at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 1974-75 when he connived with the spinners to beat Clive Lloyd’s mighty West Indies after being two down in the series.
Apart from Vishy’s brilliant 139 the match is known for the spells of Bishen Bedi and B.S. Chandrashekhar who put batsmen of the calibre of Roy Fredricks, Gordon Greenidge, Alvin Kallicharan, Vivian Richards and Lloyd on the back foot. While Bedi and Chandra were among the wickets, Tiger’s main weapon was Erapalli Prasanna who went wicketless bowling 25 overs for a measly 42 runs and put tremendous pressure on the world’s most attacking batsmen.
I was privileged to be present in Vishy’s hotel room immediately after the team had returned victorious with half a day to spare. Tiger walked in with his customary nonchalance, congratulated Vishy and declared Prasanna as the Man of the Match.
Having said that, he asked the players present in the room if they “wanted to go to the races”. This was the perfect riposte to a comment made by Sir Garfield Sobers after his team had beaten India (led by Tiger) in 1966 at the Brabourne Stadium before lunch. When asked what his plans were for the rest of the day, Sir Garfield had said “I am off to catch the 2.30 pm race.” Tiger’s greatest contribution to India was the fact that he made India stand tall by taking it out of a colonial hangover.
I envy those who were privileged to have watched Tiger during his heyday — bat and field with ease with just one eye! To quote the lyrics of an immortal song by Nat King Cole: “There will never be another one like you.” RIP Tiger… the world of cricket has lost one of its most iconic characters!
Hemant Kenkre is a former Bombay University cricketer and cricket analyst